Best Of 2020

Best Pho Spots We Lost: Staff Pick

Best Pho Spots We Lost

Obviously, Vietnamese restaurants are not chili parlors, but in Cincinnati the dining concepts engender a similar fervent fan base — a sort of culinary cult wherein diners revere a favorite hidden gem or mom-and-pop spot as offering the best pho. (Pho is not a 3-way but it is a bowl of steaming noodles so there’s probably some parallel to draw there.) Sadly, two of the most beloved family-run Vietnamese spots shut their doors this past year: Clifton Heights’ Cilantro Vietnamese Bistro and downtown’s Le’s Pho & Sandwiches. Both had a slew of loyal clientele who would extol the virtues of their treasured eatery’s menu above all others, and patronage definitely wasn’t the reason either restaurant gave for shutting their doors. Cilantro’s last day of business was Jan. 31 and they said in a Facebook post, “We owe our success and continuity over the past 16 years of business to you, our customers. We’d like to thank everyone — from those who helped build the foundation of the business, to our various staff members over the years, to our regular customers — for being a part of this incredible journey with us...It will be a strange feeling waking up Saturday morning knowing that Cilantro will not be opening, but it’s a decision we know is right for us and our family at this time.” The restaurant closed for a short time in March 2018 (restaurateur Simon Verderame bought it and reopened the space as High Steaks steak and frites shop; that closed after five days) before reopening in July of that year. Le’s closed its storefront at the end of February for similar reasons to Cilantro. For those who work downtown, Le’s tiny corner of Court Street was likely a familiar and favorite lunchtime destination. Husband and wife Hai and Le Bui and their family made the food fresh every day and their daughter, Huyen Bui-Gauck, said closing when the restaurant’s lease ended in March felt right. She said her parents are getting older and suffering from different health issues, and she has a nine-month-old son at home with whom she wants to spend more time. “It is such a hard decision because we have really grown so close to our customers,” she said to CityBeat in an email. “I know it might sound weird but with most of them they have become much more than just customers. We have seen people through so many stages of their life. Some people I know about their medical conditions and if they need to stay away from certain foods because an ulcer or a new trendy diet they want to try. I have seen people at the beginning of their pregnancies all the way until their children are graduated high school or college. It truly is an end of an era.”